Wednesday's first presidential debate may illuminate differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney on energy policy.
Obama favors government investments in alternative energy, such as wind, solar, biomass and electric cars. Romney prefers instead to take full advantage of America's new-found 200-year supply of cheap natural gas, and allow states to control their energy resources.
Green energy policies don't make us wealthier, don't reduce our costs, don't create jobs and may not help the environment. They may allow us to feel morally superior, but moral superiority is no substitute for economic growth.
Obama's policies have discouraged efficient and proven energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas, in favor of more expensive, less efficient and sometimes nonexistent green technology, such as wind, solar and biomass. The Electric Power Research Institute calculates that generating a megawatt-hour of electricity with natural gas in 2015 will cost between $49 and $79, compared with between $75 and $138 from onshore wind and between $242 and $455 for solar power.
Higher energy costs harm households and businesses alike, resulting in lower economic growth. Poor households, which spend a greater share of income on energy, bear the heaviest burden.
Green energy policies limit our freedom to choose the cars we drive and the light bulbs we use. Obama's new minimum fuel-efficiency standard, announced in August, will raise fuel standards from 35 miles per gallon in 2016 to 54 miles per gallon in 2025, supposedly saving Americans $8,000 per vehicle by 2025. But if fuel-saving technologies are so desirable, why do we need to require their use? Simple: because they are not actually a bargain at all. New cars will become more expensive, as well as smaller and lighter, so that more people will die in car crashes. The price one must pay to feel morally superior.
Another example of moral superiority is greening the military. Both the Air Force and Navy have announced plans to get half their fuel from biofuels by 2020.
"We have already tested the F-18 Hornet on biofuels, the Green Hornet," said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. "The biofuel it used was made from camelina, a member of the mustard family." That's wonderful, except Mabus didn't mention that these biofuels cost $27 per gallon, compared with $3.50 per gallon for conventional fuels. The RAND Corporation recently reported to the secretary of defense that "the use of alternative fuels offers the armed services no direct military benefit." Gambling taxpayer dollars, Americans' livelihoods and the lives of drivers is bad enough, but Obama's green energy policies have gone too far when even the battlefield, where American soldiers' lives are on the line, becomes the playground of environmentalists.
Even worse, these initiatives will not be effective in combating global warming if China and India do not follow along -- which they show no sign of doing. China and India are both rapidly developing countries. Combined, they make up more than a third of the world's total population.
China produces 70 percent of its electricity from coal, and less than 2 percent from renewables. The Chinese government understands that renewable energy is not cost-effective, but it is wisely taking advantage of its own low-cost labor and the Western obsession with environmentalism to become the world's leading producer of renewable energy components for export.
Romney's support of good old oil and gas development, which has reduced the unemployment rate in North Dakota to 3 percent, would lower energy costs and attract manufacturing back to America.
Obama's energy policy rests on moral superiority. In Wednesday's debate, Romney should make the case that green energy is neither moral nor superior, but merely condemns America to slower economic growth with only smugness to show for it.